Kansas City Star 6/24/2007
Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Larry Johnson’s frank interview with Jason Whitlock has predictably raised eyebrows, and in some cases, hackles among the Chiefs Nation. Part of the reaction has to do with the usual response that a blue collar fan base has when a perceived millionaire complains that he’s not making enough money. The other reaction has to do with Johnson’s brutal pragmatism toward the profession, or game, where he earns his keep.
Up till now, we fans have expected to hear the language of cold, calculating business emanating from the front offices. Oh, we hear the platitudes about the value of a particular player to the organization and the community, but I think we all realize that the people who run these teams at times look at their locker rooms with the same coldly appraising eye used by a cattleman eyeing his herd. Now we hear those same coldly calculating words, only it’s coming from a member of the herd.
Larry Johnson is an anomaly. There really hasn’t been anyone like him for quite some time. “He runs angry” is the description we hear most often. Although he has nice moves for a big man, he is never afraid to take on a linebacker, daring the opponent to stop him. Christian Okoye was also a big, bruising runner. But to the press and public he was always “a nice guy.” LaDanian Tomlinson is a “nice guy.” Emmit Smith was a “nice guy.” Johnson, in contrast, is the dark side of The Force. He is Darth Vader, saying, “I find your lack of faith disturbing” to coaches who suddenly feel short of breath.
The press likes to use the term “brooding” to describe him, mainly due to the way he’s been perceived since he arrived in Kansas City. Dick Vermeil was against the decision to draft Johnson; it seems he thought he already had the world’s greatest running back in Priest Holmes. He was overruled, but never let anyone doubt that wherever Johnson’s allegorical camp was, Vermeil was not in it. Even when Johnson’s talent and abilities began to reveal themselves, the Coach’s use of the rising star could only be described as grudging.
Even with the change in regimes, even after Johnson became an inhumanly dominant running back, the Chiefs reacted by covertly trying to trade him.
After all that, I’d brood, too.
So now, Larry Johnson has decided to watch his own back. Duh. If any of us had been through these series of events, we would be doing the same thing. Johnson wants more money. And he should get it. Now. To do what he has done over the past three seasons and still be paid $1.7 million is no more reasonable than to expect an autoworker or steelworker to do their thing for $5.25 per hour. Larry Johnson is an elite player. And if the Chiefs keep using him the way they have, they’re going to use him up. He’s reasonably concerned about his future; the lifespan of an NFL running back is short and the amount of violence done to their bodies in that span makes the remainder of their lives a long and painful existence.
I know many of us grumble about twenty-million-dollar contracts, but let’s face it: If 80,000 people came to our factory every week and forked over a couple hundred bucks to watch us build cars, we would be worth that amount as well. It’s all about what the market will bear.
Jason Whitlock has conferred the nom de guerre of “King Carl” on Mr. Peterson, and that’s probably not far from the truth. I can only guess, since I don’t know either one personally. However, in Peterson’s posturing through the press, you can almost hear the ravings of the Godfather character Jack Woltz, “He made me look ridiculous! And a man in my position can not afford to be made to look ridiculous!” My advice to the King is the same as Richard Pryor’s to Gene Wilder in “Silver Streak”: “Pay the man.”
Look at it this way, Carl: If Larry Johnson keeps getting the rock 400 times per season running between the tackles, he won’t last more than 4 or 5 more years anyway.
Note to Larry: It’s not personal.